Coco Laud and YaLonda “Lala” Lolar Johnson are two hilarious friends from the Twin Cities who have known each other for 20 years but just started their fabulous cooking show, Keeping Up with Coco and Lala, in August of 2017. Created to help people get more affordable access to healthier living, Keeping Up with Coco and Lala checks in with Coco and LaLa in the kitchen, as they create hearty and flavorful plant-based recipes, and also sample vegan products for their meat-eating families to see what passes the omni test. This is no boring cooking show, either: the time flies by as Coco and Lala keep us entertained with their warm, funny banter and obvious affection for each other. I love checking in with Coco and Lala, where a new live video streams from their Facebook page every Thursday at 1:30 CT. You can also check them out at 89.9 KMOJ, where they have a new radio show every Wednesday at 4 PM CT. I am honored to feature Coco and Lala today as Vegan Rockstars.
1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?
Coco: I used to cook with my Grandma whenever she came to visit us. She had always lived in a different state than we did, so I always looked forward to her coming to visit to cook with me. When I cook it reminds me of when I was younger and the love that went into the food while cooking with my Grandma.
Lala: Growing up Seventh Day Adventist I was already accustomed to eating vegan and vegetarian food. In fact, the college I attended in Alabama only served vegetarian foods in the cafeteria. So eating healthy was instilled in me at a very young age. But after college and starting a family, I fell off the wagon. After losing a relative to obesity and watching several documentaries. I knew I had to educate my family members on the benefits of healthy eating alternatives in hopes to prevent another senseless death.
2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?
Coco: We ate a lot of processed food growing up. I would have to say that my favorite meal growing up was what my Mom called, My Surprise. It was haystacks, but whoever made it got to name it after themselves. So if I made it, it would be called Coco’s Surprise. Yes, I do still make My Surprise but with a few adjustments. We replace the meat with black beans and will use non dairy sour cream and vegan cheese.
Lala: As a kid I was-meat eater and sometimes vegetarian and ate meat. When vegetarian foods were served my favorite meals were Shepherds Pie & Haystacks. Haystacks is basically chili topped with chips and all your favorite fixin’s stacked on top.
3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?
Coco: I’m going to have to say, the cauliflower spaghetti. It only has 4 ingredients and takes 20 mins or less to cook. Not to mention, it’s healthy and tastes amazing!
Lala: Fresh kale or collard greens, tomatoes & onions stir-fried in Braggs Liquid Amino. Heat up a cast iron skillet with a little oil. Throw greens, tomatoes and onion into the hot skillet. Add a few tablespoons of Braggs and sauté for 2 minutes. Best meal EVER!!!
4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?
Coco: I would cook for Ellen DeGeneres! She seems like a fun person to hang around. I would cook cauliflower spaghetti with garlic grilled cheese.
Lala: I would make bbq pulled jackfruit sandwiches with loaded potatoes for my late grandparents. They were all meat-eaters and I think they would be fooled by the taste. Honestly, I would just like to sit at a table enjoying a meal with each of them. One last time.
5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?
Coco: I think that there are many products that people think or always thought was vegan but they are not. So I think you just have to do your best in reading the ingredient list.
Lala: Looks good but has no flavor. To avoid this, I test recipes and add flavor. When cooking. I think, would my dad eat this? If yes! it’s good. If not. Well, lol.
6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?
Coco: My go to right now is corn on the cob. It is very versatile and doesn’t need any seasoning or vegan butter. I always like to have fresh herbs on hand. Fresh herbs in your dish can add so much depth to your meals.
Lala: Hearts of palm — this stuff is amazing for replacing seafood. Soy Curls — my favorite chicken replacement. Chickpeas & vegan mayo — for tuna or chicken salad. Taco seasoning — for black bean or Soy Curl tacos. Braggs amino — for stir fried greens or veggies.
7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?
Coco: My top 3 cuisines from around the world.
8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.
Coco: The documentary “What the Health?” has been really eye-opening which led me down this path. We get told weekly about how our show is helping others and we do hope to release a cookbook soon to help others.
- What the Health
- SDA church health message
- Food, Inc.
- Counsels on Diet and Foods
9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?
Coco: I would like more people to know about the lack of access that some people have to healthy affordable fresh food. If someone goes to a food shelf they are getting canned food. I realize that canned food lasts longer but I just wish there was a way to get those same people more fresh foods.
Lala: Educating my community and family about the benefits of healthy eating and living. But also being socially conscious about the needs within my community that are not food-related. I want to encourage people to work with organizations that can bring foods, gardens and resources to the communities that need it the most. And to remind people that what effects most vegans isn’t always the reality for my community. Animals and food are important. But in many communities access to foods, affordable housing, financial resources, high crime and low wages are what’s important. I want to use my platform to bridge that gap.
10. Last, please finish this sentence. “To me, vegan food is…”
Coco: life. Our bodies flourish on it. Health is the real wealth.
Lala: educating my community that healthy food can extend their lifespan.